Women’s Power

(transcript from the DVD by Max Dashu. [Additional notes appear in brackets].)

Continued from Part Four


Aboriginal runners

In this Australian rock art, female runners are hunting with a boomerang. In foraging cultures women attain a high degree of physical agility and endurance.


The Cretan bull leapers, both male and female, showed their skill and daring by seizing the bulls by the horns and vaulting over them.

Okinawa pearl divers

In Okinawa, the master pearl divers were women, who had the ability to go underwater deeper and longer than the men.


In the Philippines, Agta women are skilled archers with their longbows, often going out to hunt in groups with their dogs. [also known as Aetas]

Chand Bibi

Chand Bibi was one of many expert Rajput horsewomen. Some were polo players or huntresses. The redoubtable Noor Jehan hunted tigers, and ruled the Mughal empire too. [For more on her, see Fatima Mernissi’s book Sheherazade Goes West: Western Fantasies, Eastern Realities (2001).]


Also avid horsewomen, the Morochucas of South America, were unconcerned with European notions about ladylike sidesaddles.

Qajar acrobat

In Iran, this acrobat of the Qajar court defied notions about female modesty and demureness, balancing herself on the point of a dagger.

Catalina Erausa (1585-1650)
Some mavericks found freedom in male guise. Catalina Erausa said, “I went out of the convent. I found myself on the street, without knowing where to go; that was no matter. All I wanted was liberty.” She went to Peru as a muleteer and soldier, and once escaped execution by announcing that she was a virgin and a nun. [She later moved to Mexico and was romantically involved with women.]

Grainne Ní Mhaille (O’Mailley)
One of the great female pirates was Grainne O’Mailley, who was known as the She-King of the Connemara coast of Ireland, and the bane of the British Navy. [In her legendary confrontation with Queen Elizabeth, doubtless mythical, she held her own --and expressed disgust for the courtiers' use of handkerchiefs which they kept in their pockets.]

Lai Zho San

In the 1930s, Lai Zho San was a pirate in the South China Sea. There were also female bandits, like Bai Kuniang Bai and the notorious Widow Zhang.

Old Woman of Herat
In the 1500s, a courageous old Afghan woman grabbed the reins of the sultan Sanjar at Herat and berated him for his tyrannies. [Another example of this kind of raw courage was the Mossi mother who was ordered by a tyrant to take the baby off her back and pound it in the mortar she was using; she roared in fury, and went after him instead, ending his rule.]




Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, 39 CE
In the year 39, the Trung Sisters led a rebellion of over 80,000 Vietnamese. They seized 65 Chinese fortresses and forced the mandarin to flee. They had 36 women among their generals, including their mother. After three years, they died fighting, and a temple was built in their honor 1000 years later. [This relief is from the temple.]

Boudicca (d. 61 CE)

In the year 60, the Celtic queen Boudicca led British tribes in a revolt against the Roman empire, after the rape of her daughters and other injustices. They burned London and Colchester to the ground, and came close to forcing the Romans out. Nero almost pulled the legions out before the rising was crushed.

Zainab of Palmyra
The Syrian queen Zainab or Zenobia of Palmyra, fought the Roman legions for years, leading  armies on horseback in full armor. She routed the invaders the first time, and held them off for another four years before Syria fell.

Samsi of Nabataea

A thousand years before, Samsi, the female chieftain of the Kidri tribes, led a north Arabian insurrection against the Assyrian empire. There were many other Arab warrior queens.

Maria Candelaria

In 1712 María Candelaria raised a major Maya revolt against the Spanish after they destroyed a shrine she built. The insurrection spread from Chiapas into neighboring areas. The colonials crushed the outgunned Maya resistance, but were never able to capture María.

Gabriela Silang

Gabriela Silang led the Ilocos rebellion against Spanish rule in 1763 [after the killing of her husband Diego. She took over as general.] She recruited thousands of fighters armed with bamboo spears and blowdarts, and pulled out some victories. Captured in a daring attack on a Spanish garrison, Silang went to her execution with calm bravery. [Philippines]

Cécile Fatiman

In 1791 the old African priestess Cécile Fatiman inaugurated the Haitian revolution with a Vodou ceremony in the Bois Caiman. Carrying the loa goddess Ezili Danto, she blessed the rebel leader Boukmann with her Petro staff. [She lived to the age of 112.]

Ann Wood
led a group of teenagers in fighting off slave-catchers. Two of them were slain, the rest escaped to freedom.

The Rani of Jhansi

Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, led a major insurrection against English rule of India in 1858. Many other woman fought the British empire; in Zimbabwe …

Nehanda Nyakasikana

led the Chimurenga in 1896. The Shona prevailed at first [forcing Cecil Rhodes to send for reinforcements with machine guns] but after two years, Nehanda finally surrendered to save her people from the devastating machine guns. She was defiant up to her last breath on the gallows. [The name Nehanda was a title of Shona lion oracles; this Nehanda was one of a line of holy women that stretched back to the 15th century. More on her in the Rebel Shamans presentation.]

Yaa Asantewa, 1840-1921
Yaa Asantewa [the queen mother of Ejisu] led the Asante rebellion of 1900 in Ghana [challenging the kings to fight back against the British]: “If you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. ...We will fight the white men. We will fight until the last of us falls in the battlefield.” [Diop, Cultural Unity of Black Africa] She died in exile.

Qiu2 Jin3, 1875-1907
Qiu Jin advocated for women’s rights [education, choice in marriage] and against footbinding, [which she herself had suffered] and female slavery, asking [in a poem], “Is it sweet to live lower than cattle?” She led a girls’ school, founded a women’s newspaper Zhongguo Nu Bao, and was executed for sedition in 1907 for resisting Manchu rule.

Caroline Norton 1808-1877

Caroline Norton changed English laws that made women legal minors and gave husbands  absolute rights over wives’ bodies, property, earnings and children—as she experienced personally. She got Parliament to reform laws on child custody (1839) and marriage and divorce (1857), with far-reaching effects on women’s lives.

Matilda Joslyn Gage

was an important activist of the 19th-century women’s rights movement who was later written out of its history for being too radical. Her inclusive vision embraced African emancipation, Indian sovereignty, labor and prisoners’ rights. Gage broke new ground in women’s history and courageously pointed out the Church’s role in subjugating women. [See her book, Woman, Church, and State]

Anna Julia Cooper 1859-1964 or 1858-1963.
spoke out [in her book, A Voice from the South] on black women's "despairing fight, as of an entrapped tigress, to keep hallowed their own persons." She pushed white feminists to overcome caste bias, and called on black men to become their sisters' keepers. Cooper urged education for black girls: "not the boys less, but the girls more," pointing out what sacrifices black women made for their children's education. She herself earned a doctorate from the Sorbonne at 66.

Gertrude Bonnin, Zitkala-Sa  Yankton Nakota 1876-1938.
The writer Gertrude Bonnin was also a pan-Indian political activist and an orator who marshaled support for human rights and attacked the corrupt Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 1926 she founded and headed the National Council of American Indians [whose male leadership later erased the early history of the organization and her foundation of it].

Kishida Toshiko 1863-1901

Was the first Japanese woman to speak in public for women’s rights. A brilliant orator, she drew crowds all over Japan. She was once jailed for saying that women’s horizons should be “as large and free as the world itself.”

Pandita Ramabai, 1858-1922
spoke out passionately against child marriage, widow oppression, and prostitution; female infanticide, poverty and caste injustice. Most of her family starved to death, and she and her brother survived by reciting the Puranas. In their wanderings they saw much cruelty to women, and they became public speakers for women’s emancipation.

Ramabai began adopting street girls to save them from starvation and pimps. In 1889 she founded a refuge for child widows, run by women, [who taught girls how to earn a living. Her resolution on justice for widows was adopted by acclamation at the National Congress of India.]

Hoda Sharawi  1879-1947

led the first Egyptian women’s demonstration during the 1919 revolution. She spoke and wrote on women’s rights, and founded several organizations including the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923, when she famously removed her face veil in public. [She was the first Egyptian woman to have her photograph with unveiled face appear in a newspaper.]

Niuta Teitelboim

In the Jewish resistance to the Nazis, one of the most daring guerillas was Niuta Teitelboim. She once disguised herself as a call girl to get close to a Gestapo kommandant, shot him and coolly walked away. Teitelboim was killed in one of these dangerous actions.

Warsaw ghetto fighter

This woman was a fighter in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943. [Jews in underground bunkers held off Nazi tanks for a month, in the first and longest organized revolt in German-occupied Europe, under the worst possible conditions.] Some female fighters appeared to surrender but pulled out grenades at the last moment.

Lilian Masediba Ngoyi (1911-1980)

Was a leader in the South African resistance in the 1950s. [She was the first woman on the executive committee of the African National Congress] and head of its Women’s League. A rousing orator, Ma-Ngoyi was imprisoned after leading this women’s march on Pretoria …

Women’s march on Pretoria

… in 1956, some 20,000 strong, in opposition to making women carry passbooks. [South African women also demonstrated against taxes on beer-brewing, a female sphere and a major source of income for women.]

Wounded Knee Rising

When the Lakota took over the site of the Wounded Knee massacre to demand their 1868 treaty rights, the press attention went to men, but female elders like Ellen Moves Camp and Gladys Bissonette were key leaders, here shown negotiating with the feds.

Anna Mae Aquash
In the American Indian Movement Anna Mae Aquash spoke for reclaiming women’s powers in original Indian cultures. The FBI spread rumors that she was a snitch, causing her assassination, and then covering it up. [Their "autopsy" ignored a huge bullet hole in the back of her skull, and they also cut off her hands and sent them to Washington.]

Margaret Dongo

In Zimbabwe, Margaret Dongo was among the female guerillas who fought to bring down the white supremacist Rhodesian state. After the revolution, she became the first in Parliament to speak out against Mugabe and his attacks on women and other groups [gays, ethnic minorities, and opposition leaders].

Hanan Ashrawi

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi is an activist for peace and human rights who was official spokesperson in negotiations with Israel, a cabinet minister, and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. [She continues to work for Palestinian rights and for peace.]

Women in Black, Jerusalem

Started in Jerusalem in 1988, during the first Intifada, standing silently with signs that said, Stop the Occupation, once a week in the same place. They inspired Women in Black in other countries: in Italy against the Mafia, in Germany defending migrant workers against neo-Nazis…

Women in Black, Serbia

… in Belgrade and Zagreb they protested ethnic slaughter of Bosnians. In Fiji they protested a military coup, in the US they opposed the bombings and occupation of Iraq.

Milan demonstrators

From the late 60s on, feminists took to the streets, demanding justice and equal rights, and protesting violence against women. This massive abortion rights demonstration happened in Milan. 

Algiers protests

In the 90’s women marched through the streets of Algiers, in every style of dress, voicing their opposition to a proposal to adopt Shari’a law, which favors men. And they were successful.

Dowry protesters

Women in India have mobilized mass protests against dowry murders, sexual harassment in public, female infanticide and an array of issues. [And recently, there is the Gulabi Gang, women dressed in hot-pink saris, who confront perpetrators of violence and corruption and demand change, or else.]

Peshawar demo of RAWA

Here the Revolutionary Assn of Afghan Women demonstrates against Taliban control of Afghanistan. They are carrying a picture of Meena, who founded their women’s rights organization, RAWA, which educated girls in secret schools.

Kembatta women’s center

In Ethiopia, Boge Gebre and the Kembatta women’s center travel around with theater and videos to teach villagers about the harms of female genital excision. They ask people to raise their hands and take an oath that their daughters will be protected from the knife, and their brides. [Similar grassroots educational efforts to protect girls are going on in Senegal and other countries.]

Lifting up the land

Women also lead in protecting the Earth herself, from logging, huge dams, chemical poisons, and uranium mining.] This Australian is demonstrating an aboriginal ritual gesture of reverently “lifting up the land” [at an Aboriginal land rights parley with government officials.]

Haida elders
with drums blockaded roads to their sacred forests to protect them from logging [in the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the coast of western Canada].

Sofía Painequeo

The spiritual leadership of women like the Chilean machi Sofia Painequeo accords with native sovereignty, female empowerment, and respect for Mother Earth. [machi: female shamans of the Mapuche people in southern Chile]

Siberian drummers

So remember, we all come from a long line of powerful and creative women, and take heart. We have work to do, justice to be won, life to sustain, and music to make.


Study and Discussion Guide

Suppressed Histories Archives
real women, global vision


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